The Balance of Hope & Lament
A faith that only expresses joy and praise becomes anemic without recognition of the challenges we face as people living in a fallen world. True worship embraces longing and sorrow given back to God as a way to deepen our hope in Jesus.
Jesus is our clearest picture of God’s love, grace, and rescue plan, but we still experience suffering, sorrow, and death (until the fullness of His kindgom comes) Followers of Christ should be open and honest with the struggles of the world, and have the ability to bring the fullness of our frustration and lack of understanding back to God.
Sometimes the church can give the impression that sadness is just having little faith and not practicing joy or remembering the right things, but the Psalms model for us a bold honesty in bringing these things fully to God. Even Jesus practiced lament (praying in the garden and his last words are example of laments).
We tend to like Psalms of orientation (the ones we quote all the time), but Psalms of disorientation (lament, even anger) lead us to re-orientation and new life in deeper faith.
Lament roots us in the reality of the world and helps us be honest with the fact that we are not God. This is the world our neighbours live in too, and reminds us all of the need for rescue – for good news!
Lament tears down our idols of control and comfort. When we pray and sing about the suffering and pain in the world, we recognize our own desire to ignore it in our own lives, and ignore it in the lives of others, shutting us off from the ability to empathize and serve the widow and the orphan.
Lament moves us to a deeper, re-oriented hope. Knowing Jesus isn’t a box to check, but a relationship to develop. Our hallelujahs become all the more powerful when they’re born from a place of complete honesty and even brokenness.
What if being people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.
Kate Bowler – Everything Happens for a Reason
The task of prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.
It is my judgement that this action of the church (singing psalms of orientation exclusively) is less a defiance guided by faith and founded in the good news, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to come, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture.
I think that serious religious use of the complaint psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have through that acknowledgement of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith, as though the very speech about it conceded too much about God’s “loss of control.”
Walter Brueggemann – Spiritualty of the Psalms
The point of worship is bound up with the point of creation. The goal of Christian worship is a renewal of the mandate in creation: to be (re)made in God’s image and then sent as his image bearers to and for the world.
James Smith – You Are What You Love
…the sacraments are a wonderful antidote to the fuzzy, shallow Gnosticism that characterizes Western culture today, in which the soul is the authentic self, the body is a malleable and fungible commodity that can be reconfigured through technology, and all things are subordinate to the will (usually expressed in terms of “choice”). … A mixture of consumer preferences and accessible technology enables us to prioritize soul over body, experience over action, romance over love, choice over commitment, virtual over physical, anywhere over somewhere.
Andrew Wilson – Spirit & Sacrament
If we don’t cry, we shouldn’t sing. The connection between lament and justice is an oft-neglected relationship. Engagement in justice and our worship and knowledge of God are inextricable.
Ken Wytsma – Pursuing Justice
We begin to recognize that poverty isn’t a problem “out there” affecting “them,” but rather it is a problem that begins within our own hearts and affects all of us, for we all experience brokenness and we all need redemption through Christ.
Barry Slauenwhite – Strategic Compassion
Songs of Lament Playlist
Lots of great songs from some lesser known songwriters and worship artists.
What About Anger?
If you’re interested in going beyond just sadness and lament, I preached a sermon on the role of anger in the psalms and in our practices today.
Books to Read Through
Open and Unafraid
A great invitation into the depth and bredth of the Psalms and how they can deepen and worship. If you wanted a guide to reading and praying the Psalms, this is the book I’d recommend first. His insights are deep without being hard to grasp, and he’s also a great guy to follow on instagram and regularaly posts wonderful short prayers that will bring honesty and hope to your feed.
Spirit and Sacrament
A great look at the theological foundations of worship, but with practical suggestions for how our practices can be both deeply charismatic and rooted in ancient liturgical practices (including lament and joy!). This is a book I’ve lead both my volunteer worship leaders and fellow church staff through, and lays the groundwork for lots of great conversations.
Barry served as the president of Compassion Canada for more than 25 years, and his passion for helping fellow believers link the procolmation of the good news of Jesus with the work to serve the poor is seen clearly in this book. He offers great insights into the most effective strategies of aleviating poverty and shows us how the words of the gospel must be embodied by those who call themselves followers of Jesus.
Everything Happens for a Reason
Kate is a deep theologian and a wonderful storyteller who will help you wrestle with how much we all would like to avoid pain and keep control over everything, even when we think we’ve given it over to God. I think this is a must-read for anyone in pastoral ministry, or anyone journeying with someone who is going through the journey of dying (which is all of us eventually).
Spirituality of the Psalms
Brueggemann is one of the foremost Old Testament scholars alive today, and while his writing is dense at times, this ia a great little read on his take on the Psalms in three categories: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. He calls us worship leaders out for only ever going to the well-worn psalms that are easy to digest, and gives us reason to dive into the depths of the uncomfortable and difficult psalms of lament and even anger so that we can discover greater joy and hope on the other side.
Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
The author of the Message and faithful pastor and scholar gives us some wonderful teaching on how to learn to pray from the Psalms. Peterson’s mastery of language and depth of thinking makes this a joy to read while also cracking open and revealing our hearts and leading us to give it all back to God.
Reflections on the Psalms
Everyone knowns and loves Narnia and Mere Christianity, but here Lewis writes honestly about his love for and difficulties with the Psalms. A great read if you enjoy Lewis’ wit and wisdom and want to know what how the Psalms changed one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century.
Books to Pray Through
Every Moment Holy Vol I
A fantastic collection of prayers for all kinds of everyday moments, from changing diapers and home repairs to those who feel awkward in social situations and the enjoyment of bonfires. I’ve gifted this book to many people, and they all love the way that it draws them to Christ and gives them words of life in the mundaine and joy-filled moments in all of life. This also includes one of my favorite and often prayed prayers when I lead worship, A Liturgy Before Taking The Stage
Every Moment Holy Vol II
I’ve yet to explore the depths of this newer volume, but it’s a great companion to learning how to lament and find hope in the grief that is inevitable in all of our lives. These are great prayers to pray when we find we don’t have the words and our souls ache in grief and hope.
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth
A collection of prayers given before lectures over his career, these have been a favorite of mine as they combine profound honesty, deep theology, and beautiful poetry. I’ve often drawn from these when leading congregations in worship, and they’ve helped me go deeper into lament and praise.